While the three flights needed to reach your destination from the UK may raise an eyebrow, once you've jumped in and sampled some of the best dive sites in Komodo, you'll quickly realise that it was well worth the effort.
Indonesia is one of the most sought-after destinations among divers, and within the lengthy Indonesian archipelago, Komodo sits as one of the top choices. Famed for its eponymous dragons, Komodo is also blessed with a rich and varied marine life. With everything from muck to mantas below the waves, it's difficult to pick the best dive sites in Komodo, but here's our run-through of the not-to-be-missed sites when diving in Komodo National Park.
Not only is Batu Bolong one of the best dive sites in Komodo, but it often features on lists of the best dive sites in all of Indonesia. There can be tricky currents, but the marine life is spectacular. The dive site's name translates as 'Hollow Rock', and it is a pinnacle dive. Entry is made on the leeward side of the rock, where there is shelter from the current, and after descending, divers snake their way back up the rock into the shallows.
Marine life at Batu Bolong is as varied as it is impressive. While the bigger stuff - sharks, mantas, turtles, Napoleon wrasse, giant trevally and dogtooth tuna - may get the lion's share of the attention, keep your eyes peeled as you scan the reef for some smaller critters too. You may also be able to spot a blue-ringed octopus, various nudibranchs, and, if you scan the bubble corals, maybe even a hirsute orangutan crab.
Another crowd-pleasing pinnacle dive in Komodo is Castle Rock. The pinnacle rises to within a few metres of the surface, and the currents ensure the big boys show up in search of a snack. Grey reef sharks, giant trevallies and dogtooth tuna are unimpeded by the currents as they cruise around the rock, while black-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks can be seen closer to the pinnacle.
Whale sharks, reef mantas and even the occasional hammerhead shark have been seen at Castle Rock, which ensures its place among the best dive sites in Komodo. There are plenty of smaller critters to keep an eye open for too (when the currents allow), including harlequin shrimp, ribbon eels and ornate ghostpipefish hiding among the feather stars.
There are no prizes for guessing what makes Manta Point one of the best dive sites in Komodo. Reef mantas (Mobula alfredi) show up in numbers to feed in the plankton-rich currents that push through the dive site. Manta Point, also known as Karang Makassar in Bahasa Indonesia, is considered one of the world's premier dive sites to encounter healthy populations of mantas, and its shallow depth means it's even possible to see the mantas while snorkelling.
Manta Point is located between the islands of Rinca and Komodo, and aside from the mantas, you can also expect to see turtles, reef sharks, eagle rays and giant trevallies. The dive site is visited by mantas year-round, but they do seem to prefer the rainy season, turning up in their biggest numbers between December and February.
This is another pinnacle dive that is prone to strong currents and is considered by many to be one of the best dive sites in Komodo National Park. There seems to be a theme developing, but fear not-there are also amazing macro dive sites in Komodo. Castle Rock, though, is mainly about the shark action in the currents. The dive site earned its name by usually having excellent conditions with crystal-clear water.
Once below the surface, be sure to keep one eye scanning the blue for large tuna, giant trevallies and grey reef sharks as they watch out for errant reef fish to snack upon. Closer to the reef, the smaller black-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks can be seen cruising back and forth, and peering through the haze of colourful reef fish may reveal various nudibranchs and moray eels. If luck's on your side, you may even be rewarded by a pod of dolphins passing through!
The Yellow Wall is a popular dive site located in the southern region of Komodo National Park, in Loh Dasami Bay. It is often touted as being the best wall dive in the whole Komodo island group and can be dived at depth or in the shallows. The beautiful wall starts at five metres and continues down to a depth of more than 30 meters, and the dive site is one of the most colourful in the area. Beautiful soft corals, colourful fire urchins, featherstars and vibrant sea squirts blanket the wall as if Joseph had hung his technicolour dreamcoat over the reef.
Various butterflyfish and angelfish species contribute to the colour explosion, while Spanish dancer nudibranchs, long-nosed hawkfish, pygmy seahorses and frogfish make this an excellent dive for macro photographers, whether during the day or at night.
Cauldron / Shotgun
The Cauldron, also known as 'The Shotgun', is in the northern area of Komodo National Park. The dive takes place in the channel between Gilli Lawa Laut and Gilli Lawa Darat and can be prone to strong currents being funnelled through the narrowing channel. When the currents are strong, this pumping drift dive is best left to experienced divers, as it can be quite challenging. But the local motto of 'no current, no shark' means that the dive is usually planned when the tide charts predict some water movement.
A dive at the Cauldron begins with a descent through a beautiful, sloping coral reef before levelling out onto a white-sand bottom at around 23 metres. White-tipped reef sharks, sting rays and garden eels can be seen along the bottom before you cross a rubble plateau, which then drops steeply from 15 metres down to 23 metres. At this point, you enter the Cauldron: a huge basin that has been worn into the seabed by the constant coming and going of the currents.
Following the edge of the Cauldron, you can make your way around to the fishbowl area - a large crack in the reef where schooling surgeon fish and snappers congregate - before heading up a rocky wall and into the infamous 'shotgun'. The currents being funnelled into the channel and up from the bottom of the Cauldron meet to throw you along the reef as if you've just hit the afterburners. Enjoy the ride and keep your eyes open for sharks and giant trevallies hunting, with the occasional glance up to check if the mantas are in town.
When diving at Torpedo Alley, good buoyancy is a must; otherwise, you may find out first-hand about the defence mechanism employed by the site's eponymous fish, the torpedo ray. Also known as electric rays, torpedo rays can give quite the shock to a diver resting their knees in the sand!
The dive site features a black-sand slope, and for muck diving enthusiasts, it is one of the best dive sites in Komodo National Park. Before the dive, you may spot Komodo dragons, monkeys and wild boars on land, and upon descending, you will discover a stellar muck diving site. With rhinopias, Ambon scorpionfish, frogfish, ghostpipefish, and plenty of nudibranchs joining the torpedo rays in being commonly spotted, the dive can be a real battery drainer for keen macro photographers.
The small, unimposing seamount poking out above the surface reveals one of the most colourful and best dive sites in Komodo from the moment you begin your descent. Huge, purple gorgonian fans, emerald branches of Tubastraea corals, and lime-green whip corals add to the multi-coloured feather stars, oodles of colourful nudis and a plethora of vibrant reef fish that call Cannibal their home.
The dive is suitable for all levels to enjoy, as the site is tucked into a protected bay. A glance away from the reef will reveal large trevallies, barracudas and king mackerels passing by, while bamboo sharks, frogfish and leaf scorpionfish conceal themselves among the colourful corals.
A stone's throw from Batu Bolong, Siaba Besar is a muck diving haven, with many weird and wonderful creatures hiding within the bay. Affixing your macro lens to your camera setup will have your batteries working overtime as you zoom in on flamboyant cuttlefish, frogfish, ornate ghostpipefish, sea moths, stargazers and hairy shrimp. A scan of the sandy patches may even reveal an elusive wonderpus or mimic octopus, while you should keep your fingers crossed for rare rhinopias too.
There's plenty to see here besides the macro critters, with the site being a favourite hangout of turtles in particular. There are also great chances of white-tipped reef sharks and blue-spotted ribbontail rays resting on the bottom. With an average dive depth of 14 metres, there's every chance of a longer bottom time here, so make sure you put cameras and strobes on charge well before the jump time!